Material Monday EP. 4: What is Tencel™ and how sustainable is it?

TENCEL™ is an innovative material, that is currently being worshipped for how sustainable it is. Especially among sustainable fashion lovers, TENCEL™ has become the holy grail of materials – it is often said to be one of the most sustainable materials and brands that produce clothes made from TENCEL™ are praised for their decision to use this new material. But is it really that sustainable? And what makes it so special? Keep reading to find out what TENCEL™ is, how sustainable it is and which brands use it. 

What is Tencel™?

The word TENCEL is actually a trademarked term for the semi-synthetic fibres lyocell and modal, which are both types of rayon. TENCEL™ is produced by the Austrian company Lenzing AG in a closed loop production process.

What’s great about the material is that it’s soft, while also being very strong and resistant. It is also extremely moisture absorbent, which makes it perfect for active wear. 

How is Tencel™ made?

In general, all semi-synthetic fibres, including TENCEL™ branded lyocell and modal, are made by breaking down cellulose from wood pulp. Before it is dried, wood chips are mixed with a solvent to produce a wet mixture. The mixture is pushed through small holes to form threads, which is then chemically treated. 

How is it different from other types of rayon? I won’t go into the technical details, but what it comes down to is that the manufacturing process for TENCEL™ lyocell and modal is slightly different from other types of rayon.

How sustainable is Tencel™?

There are both negative and positive sides to the material.

While other types of rayon, such as viscose, are often produced in ways that are highly unethical in many different ways, TENCEL™ is produced from sustainably sourced wood by environmentally responsible processes. The material requires less water than cotton, and as a naturally derived fibre, TENCEL™ is also biodegradable.

TENCEL™ is produced using a chemical called amine oxide, which is known to be safer than most chemicals used to produce other types of rayon. It requires a lot less dye than cotton, and is produced in an entirely closed loop process, so that chemicals and dyes aren’t discharged into the water and the environment. Overall, the manufacturing process results in very little waste product. 

The main concern with the fabric is the use of energy during the production process. Lenzing AG have acknowledged this and are working to address this concern by increasing their use of renewable energy sources.

Brands that use Tencel™

TENCEL™ is used by several amazing sustainable brands, including Reformation, Patagonia, Ninety Percent and Boyish. But also fast fashion brands like H&M and Victoria’s Secret are increasingly using TENCEL™ for their products.

Gellar Top – Reformation: Made from 95% TENCEL™

The Bailey – Boyish: Made from 40% TENCEL™

Turtleneck Body – Ninety Percent: Made from 96% TENCEL™

Pataloha Strappy Dress – Patagonia: Made from 100% TENCEL™ 

You can find all the brands that use TENCEL™ branded fibres here

TENCEL™ is still a rather new material, that is mostly used by brands with strong sustainable philosophies. There are two other materials produced by the same company: EcoVero and Refibra.

However, there are other entirely natural materials that are sustainable and that are definitely easier to find, including linen, organic cotton and hemp.

In conclusion, TENCEL™ really is a sustainable material, and the fact that Lenzing AG produces its materials in an entirely closed loop process sets a great example for other fabric manufacturers. If you’re interested in how other types of rayon are produced, and why they aren’t as sustainable as TENCEL™, make sure you read Material Monday Episode 3 about viscose.

Please let me know if you have any questions, thoughts or recommendations.


Thanks for reading!

Pauline xx

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